Yes. College admission officials want more than data points (Class rank, GPA, test scores) to evaluate your candidacy. They want to understand you as an individual—your values, what motivates you, how you look after others, and how eager you are to learn. Therefore, to strengthen your application, here are some valuable tips about getting strong teacher recommendations written on your behalf:
1) Who To Ask: Choose a teacher whose class you excelled in and who knows you well. Since the teacher will be providing insights about you to the Admission readers, it’s also helpful if the teacher has had contact with you outside of class—whether thru the Chess team, Student Government, sports team, or community outreach. The key is revealing your academic potential, character traits, and personality. Teacher anecdotes are particularly revealing and helpful to the Admission committee.
Most colleges prefer one recommendation from a humanities (English, history, foreign language) teacher and one from a Math or Science teacher. If you’re applying to a specific program, for example in Music, obtain a recommendation from a teacher in that field who can speak to your specific skill level and passion for your instrument. Likewise, if you’re planning to be pre-med have your Biology teacher corroborate your commitment to studying medicine and conducting experiments.
2) How To Ask: In person. Requesting such an important and time-consuming task needs to be done in person. This demonstrates respect for the process and to the teacher. Never ask via Email.
3) Give Them Background Information: While a teacher may know you reasonably well, it’s helpful to them if you provide a “brag sheet” or resume as well as a brief paragraph about your aspirations. If you have finished your personal statement essay, send it for sure.
4) When To Ask: Toward the end of your Junior year. It’s a good idea, though, to consider who you might ask at the beginning of your Junior year. Cultivate relationships with your teachers and develop a connection with one or more of them.
5) How To Get To Know Teachers and Counselors: For some students, getting to know their teachers comes naturally, while others prefer to work more independently. If you consider yourself the latter, then you might prefer to show your eagerness to learn and contribute with an independent project. Pushing yourself to participate more is a trait you’ll need in college as well, so why not start early. Go above and beyond to connect with teachers in the classroom or in after school clubs and activities. The more they see you in different contexts working towards your goals and pursuing your interests, the more thorough, positive, and specific their letters will be.
Be sure to introduce yourself to the college/guidance counselor early in the Fall as he or she can offer your advice about college applications and also will likely be writing the school recommendation.
6) Write a Handwritten Thank You Note: When all your applications are submitted, be sure to write a thank note to each recommender, and let them know which college you will be attending. They will surely appreciate your thoughtfulness.
– Cynthia S. West M.A., Ed.M.